Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Perceptions of morality influence economic decisions, brain responses to rewards


How we perceive another’s moral character can influence the nature of our economic decisions and the neural mechanisms underlying these choices, according to a new study by researchers at New York and Cornell universities. The findings, which appear in the latest issue of the journal Nature Neuroscience, run counter to the assumptions favored by many economists that individuals behave opportunistically.

The study’s researchers were Mauricio Delgado, a post-doctoral research fellow at NYU, Robert Frank, an economics professor at Cornell’s Johnson School of Management, and Elizabeth A. Phelps, a professor of psychology and neural science at NYU.

In conducting the study, researchers examined brain responses while participants performed a "trust game" involving two-person interactions in which mutually beneficial outcomes are more likely if partners are trustworthy and perceive one another as such. Participants could either keep $1 on a given trial or transfer it to a partner, in which case the partner would receive $3. The partner could either keep the entire $3 or share half of it back. It was thus advantageous to transfer money to a partner who was expected to share, but disadvantageous to transfer money to one not expected to share.

Participants were instructed that they would be playing with three fictional partners and were given detailed descriptions of each partner’s life events indicating praiseworthy, neutral, or suspect moral character. Participants were also told that their fictional partners’ responses would not necessarily be consistent with the descriptions given. In fact, each of the three fictional partners--"good," "bad," and "neutral"--was programmed to share half the time and keep half the time.

Despite having been warned that the fictional partners’ behavior might not match their descriptions, participants were initially much more willing to transfer money to good partners, and much less willing to transfer money to bad partners. But after having completed multiple trials with each type of partner, participants reported correctly that the different partners seemed to be sharing at about the same rate. Strikingly, however, participants continued to be more likely to trust good partners and less likely to trust bad ones, even though they indicated explicit knowledge that the response patterns for the different types were the same.

In mapping participants’ underlying neural processes, the researchers discovered activation in the brain’s striatum--more specifically, a structure called the caudate nucleus--which had previously been linked to reward processing. The brain responses matched the patterns traditionally seen during trial and error reward learning (i.e., differential responses between positive and negative feedback) only when participants were interacting with the neutral partner. In contrast, activation was either weak or absent when subjects were playing with good or bad partners.

"It was as if the influence of participants’ prior impressions served to disrupt some of their normal feedback learning mechanisms and consequently affected their ability to adapt choices," explained Delgado.

The study’s findings run counter to the self-interest model in economics.

"The self-interest model predicts that people should be skeptical of everyone," Frank said. "Yet people seem reluctant to adopt that posture toward someone described as trustworthy, even when they know the description is fictional."

According to Phelps, these findings suggest that "second-hand accounts of moral character can override the impact of first-hand experience of trustworthiness as expressed in both behavioral choices and the underlying neural mechanisms"

James Devitt | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>